The biggest problem with the new Arnold Schwarzenegger comeback film "The Last Stand" isn't the multiple plot holes you could drive a heavily-armed school bus through. It isn't Johnny Knoxville. It isn't even the Governator himself, who seems to be in a different, much more interesting film than the English-language debut from Korean director Jee-woon Kim. No, the real issue is that, like "Gangster Squad," it's almost impossible to watch without reflecting on the gun violence debate going on in the real world. "The Last Stand" is mindlessly violent—and I say that with the belief that there is a place in the world for enjoyably mindlessly violent films. But this film, which has shades (very, very small shades) of classic Western themes within it, often feels like a story in service of violence, rather than the other way around. That's problematic in a number of ways, not the least of which is that in the world of "The Last Stand," the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a bigger gun. And a lot of guns. And a deputy who is, in fact, a crazy gun nut, exactly the sort of guy you wouldn't want to be allowed anywhere near a firearm.
Arnold plays Ray Owens, the sheriff of a sleepy little Arizona town not far from the border of Mexico. Not much happens here, and that's how he likes it, though the morning the movie opens, almost everyone is leaving to see a high-school football game. That's good, though, because that will almost definitely lower the body count. Ray quickly spots the bad guys, who, in the interests of secrecy, have decided to park their huge purple rig in front of a diner, eat in public, and act squirrelly when he questions them. Turns out their leader, Burrell (Peter Stormare), has good reason to be that way, since he and his paramilitary team are building an escape route for Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), a Mexican cartel boss who has just pulled off a daring escape from Federal custody, right from under the nose of FBI man Forest Whitaker. The bad guy is now hurtling towards Ray's little town in a souped-up Corvette, and the only thing standing between him and freedom is Ray, his deputies, a drunken Iraq vet (Rodrigo Santoro), and an insane gun nut (Johnny Knoxville) with an awesome selection of weapons.
That's pretty much the long and short of it. There are some pretty terrific action sequences, though almost none of them involve Arnold, who is, let's face it, older than he was when he took over California. That said, this is definitely his comeback vehicle, and he takes it more seriously than, well, pretty much everyone else in it. Which is too bad, because I'd really love to see the movie that he thought he was making.
All of that said, "The Last Stand" is rated R for serious gun violence. I should be clear, though--this isn't intended to be any sort of anti-gun rights rant. The movie is a perfect example of what both sides of the debate have discussed. Gun rights supporters will look at it as one more brutally violent adventure film, glorifying murder and mayhem. Gun control advocates will see it as espousing the NRA's talking points—more guns in the hands of the right people can stop crime. But here's the thing: "The Last Stand" is neither smart nor very well thought through. It's designed as violent escapism—and again, I personally don't have a problem with that. This isn't a movie made for you to think about, so it's ironic that in wake of the national debate on gun violence, to actually touch on a movie that has an enormous amount of it might be giving the movie itself too much credit.